NEWCASTLE police raided an alleged hydroponic marijuana growing operation in Newcastle, saying that even if it was for “medicinal cannabis” it was against the law.
The police action has been condemned by high-profile medicinal cannabis campaigner Andrew Katelaris, who acknowledged his involvement in the crop when interviewed by the Newcastle Herald.
The Herald has written a number of articles in recent years about Dr Katelaris – who was deregistered in 2005 over his cannabis work – and his colleagues in an an underground network distributing medicinal cannabis to substantial numbers of patients for a variety of conditions.
Karen Burge, who has stood for parliament as a Drug Reform Party candidate, said the cannabis operation was run under the name of The Church of Ubuntu and had about 2000 people “on its books”.
Ms Burge said some of their patients had been granted “terminal condition” waivers by the state government, which Premier Mike Baird had announced in support of medicinal cannabis.
“It’s not much use if the government allows people to use medicinal cannabis but then busts the people who are helping provide it,” Ms Burge said. She said many of the plants seized were seedlings that were to have been given to patients to grow in their homes. Dr Katelaris said the state government and senior Newcastle police had been well aware of “the work” that he and his colleagues had been doing and he had no idea why the police had suddenly decided to raid their operation.
“We run a cannabis clinic and provide appropriate medicinal cannabis for a range of conditions,” Dr Katelaris said.
When the Herald arrived at the Newcomen Street premises of the Church of Ubuntu at about 1pm yesterday, Newcastle Police Detective Inspector Peter Mahon confirmed that a warrant had been served to search the premises, acting on “information received” about the growing of hydroponic cannabis.
Detective Inspector Mahon said even if those behind the operation believed they were growing it for “medicinal purposes”, it remained “a straight-out breach” of the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act.
He said 215 plants, ranging from seedlings to more mature plants, had been seized in the raid, along with a substantial amount of hydroponic growing equipment, including lights.
He said the raid had proceed “without incident” and no-one had been arrested at the time of the raid, although he did expect that charges would be laid as a consequence.
He said about a dozen police had taken part in the operation.